From 9 a.m. to nearly 10:30 a.m., a delegation from the White House briefed House Democrats on the latest struggles of the Affordable Care Act. Members leaving the room described a grim and bitter tone. Even Democrats from safe seats vented their spleens about how badly the rollout, and the cancellations of individual plans, looked for the party.
"It's a mess right now," said New York Rep. José Serrano, whose Bronx-based seat is one of the country's bluest. "This whole issue, which we all ran on—I come from the safest Democratic district in the nation, so I'm not making a political statement, but this idea that if you like your plan you can keep it, there's a lot of concern about that."
According to Politico, Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen confided that " 'If you like your health care you can keep it' is very damaging and the caucus is at risk in 2014," and that there was no good way to oppose Fred Upton's bill—the retroactive grandfathering of plans, which may not even work—and explain it to voters. Sources in the room say that the White House was told to stop setting public deadlines, and that the website failures, after three years of planning, were unacceptable.
"Why isn't this working?" asked Serrano. "We've got minds in this country that can put a website together. I may sound simplistic, but why can't we call people who know how to do these things, who do it for corporate America, and say: We have a website, fix it! We can't call up Bill Gates or go to a college dorm, where they invented Yahoo? I'm not trying to be funny here, but it's funny, in a sad way."
The problem—and it's not the only problem—was that the White House could not promise fixes. There was no clear guidance on whether the administration could write a rule protecting old plans, short-circuting the Upton bill. After the meeting, on camera, New York Rep. Joe Crowley insisted that Democrats were being schooled on how voting for Upton's bill meant voting to dismantle Obamacare, and undoing the progress that so many colleagues had been defeated after achieving. Democrats in the Senate had the same problem: Their own version of the bill would undercut the entire law by allowing the sort of people who needed to buy into the exchanges to stay on cheap plans.
"There were questions as to why we went around telling people you could do this and that and that," sighed Serrano.
"We're working on it."